CLEVELAND -- It was an early Friday afternoon on a hot mid-July when the fortunes of the NBA -- and Northeast Ohio -- were changed in an instant.
After weeks of anticipation, LeBron James announced he was returning home to re-sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers, doing so with a Sports Illustrated essay co-authored by Lee Jenkins.
"Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart," James wrote. "People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.
"In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home."
As of Thursday, it's now been five years since James first announced his return to Cleveland, which came after four seasons and two championships with the Miami Heat. Although the 4-time MVP made a point to not promise a championship in his Sports Illustrated essay, he delivered one anyways, leading the Cavs to a historic comeback from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Golden State Warriors in seven games in the NBA Finals, which marked Cleveland's first major professional sports championship in 52 years.
Over the course of the four seasons that comprised James' second stint in Cleveland, he led the Cavs to four consecutive NBA Finals as the team amassed a combined 211-117 regular season record. He also made his mark felt off the court as well, as the LeBron James Family Foundation opened the I Promise School, which is designed to help at-risk children in his hometown of Akron.
One month before his school opened last July, James announced he was taking his talents elsewhere -- announcing he had signed a four-year contract to join the Los Angeles Lakers. But rather than being met with boos -- as he was when he first returned as a member of the Heat -- James was showered with multiple standing ovations when the Lakers faced the Cavs in Cleveland last November.
"At the end of the day, I came back because I felt like I had some unfinished business," James said following his final game with the Cavs. "To be able to be a part of a championship team two years ago with the team that we had and in the fashion that we had is something I will always remember. Honestly, I think we'll all remember that. It ended a drought for Cleveland of 50-plus years."